by Nicole Ramos

Photo credit: Nicole Ramos

There are too many.

And that knowledge some days feels like it will break me. In the courtroom I sit sandwiched in the back row with my client, a wisp of boy, only 18 years , furiously bouncing his knee, a nervous tic that cannot be controlled, even though he knew that I would be here with him.

He is one of the few here with an attorney. The visiting judge moves through the docket like its a race, firing off staccato questions in rapid fire succession, “why did you leave your country,” he asks, the words tumbling from his mouth across the room like marbles from a toppled jar. It is clear to everyone that he wants to move through this mass of cases as expeditiously as the law will allow.

In Spanish, the woman in the prison uniform mumbles that she fled because of “some problems with the gang.” “Yes, but what EXACTLY happened” the judge presses her. “They raped me” she murmurs softly into the microphone in this courtroom filled with strange men, her sentence dissolving into tears as her hunched shoulders tell the story of her shame. He coolly directs the clerk to hand the crying woman an asylum application, telling her to return in one month with it completed. I want to jump to my feet to stand with her, but we have not yet been called and I need to focus.

Soon enough, our turn comes, and the judge gives us the date for our next hearing. I return to my seat at the back of the gallery watching, not quite yet ready to leave. I spy an effeminate man in the front row, slight in frame, with beautiful long hair. He is sitting alone. And he is trembling all over. That is what draws my eyes to him. His body shaking, and the absence of bodies around him. I ask the other detained people in my row if they know whether he is seeking asylum too. They nod in the affirmative. I scurry to sit beside him.

“Do you have an attorney,” I whisper. “No and I am scared,” he whispers back, pulling from a battered envelope the photos of his bruised and mangled face, what they did to him in his country for the simple fact that he is gay. He tells me that he suffered much, for the same reason, during the journey north, while he meets my stare dead on.

“They will kill me if I go back. Because of who I am.”

My body tells me I am exhausted. My mind tells me one more tragic narrative will put me in a therapist’s chair. But my heart — my heart cannot abide. I tell him I am his attorney if he will accept. He clasps my hands in his, and says “yes, please.”

The judge calls his case, and gives me a raised eyebrow as I return to the stand before him. “You picked up another one I see” he remarks. “Yes your Honor, I have. He is my client.”

The hearing closes as quickly as it began, We are given a date to return with a completed application, and moments later I am outside, leaving behind my new client, and the others incarcerated within. Outside the detention center I can see over the hills to Mexico, my home.

I breathe deep. But still I cannot breathe. There are too many. The day is too bright for the darkness I just left behind. I want to take them with me, but I have to get into my car alone. I want to cry, but I simply can’t anymore. There are too many, and tears take away precious time and energy better spent in other places. I’ve become a person who has both too many and not enough feelings, both incredibly raw and remarkably dead inside.

Although the sky is breathtakingly beautiful here, just right outside the doors to this terrible place, there is nothing to enjoy — there are too many inside who will never see it.